Pitching your business: A Fortescue perspective

For Indigenous entrepreneurs, pitching your business can be a challenging task. Understanding your own business, knowing your buyer audience and understanding the market you operate in while selling the capability of your business is not easy without research and good preparation. This article provides Supply Nation Certified Indigenous businesses with advice about pitching, from a Supply Nation Member perspective.    

By Heath Nelson, Principle Aboriginal Advisor, Fortescue Metals Group

Fortescue Metals Group is the world’s fourth largest iron-ore producer, exporting ore from our Cloudbreak, Christmas Creek and Solomon mining operations in the Pilbara region in Western Australia. Ore is hauled on Fortescue’s world class rail network hundreds of kilometres to our port facilities in Port Hedland where it is exported to customers in China and South East Asia.

Fortescue has Land Access Agreements with seven Native Title Groups upon whose land these mines, railways and related facilities are situated, and it is our commitment to them and other Indigenous businesses to engage them in business and contracting opportunities.
At Fortescue, we believe in building sustainable business capabilities by providing training, employment and business opportunities. In late 2011, we set ourselves a goal of awarding $1 billion worth of contracts to Aboriginal contractors and joint ventures by the end of December 2013 and we proudly celebrated this achievement in August, six months ahead of our target with the award of 102 contracts and sub-contracts to 52 Aboriginal-owned and run businesses.

So, what are the key points Supply Nation Certified Indigenous businesses should consider when pitching their business to a company like Fortescue?

1.      Know your market
The resources industry has experienced rapid growth over the past decade, which has led to the emergence of many businesses competing for work. In regards to Aboriginal engagement, Fortescue’s primary objective is to provide opportunities for capability development and sustainable growth to the Native Title Groups and Traditional Owners on whose land we operate. When a business opportunity is identified, Fortescue will initially look to these groups to see if they have the capacity to realise that opportunity, either on their own or through another business arrangement, for example a joint venture.  Some industry sectors, such as civil/earthworks, are already highly competitive with many Indigenous-owned businesses competing for similar work. But there are sectors with little or no competition from these groups. Finding out what businesses are operating within your sector identifies not only your competition but potential opportunities for collaboration.

2.      Don’t send a ‘generic’ email as your introduction to a new client
Fortescue doesn’t have a tray full of contracts waiting to be awarded. It may take some time for an opportunity to arise that suits Fortescue’s needs and your business capabilities. Fortescue must know not only what you can do but what you do best, and you must explain how you intend to deliver your services in Perth or the remote Pilbara region.

If you identify an opportunity to supply a specific product or service, focus on that capability and the detail associated with supplying it. Fortescue engages many businesses to provide a huge array of products and services. The best chance of being awarded a supply contract is demonstrating your ability to deliver – remember we are on the west coast. Be honest about what you can and can’t achieve. Don’t put your business at risk by making commitments beyond your current capability. In many circumstances, you have ONE chance, so grab it with two hands and DELIVER, DELIVER, DELIVER!

3.      Be competitive
Fortescue is continually striving to increase efficiency throughout our business and procure goods and services that best meet our requirements at the most competitive rate. Being an Indigenous-owned business gives you a competitive advantage but that alone won’t award you a contract.  Your business should be competitive across all key areas including price, delivery, timeframes, and support.

4.      Form mutually beneficial relationships
Many mining contracts are quite large and beyond the scope and capability of most Supply Nation Certified Indigenous businesses.
Partnering with another business can deliver benefits for all parties involved. For example, if you can supply a particular product but lack the distribution channels to guarantee delivery, partnering with a business that has an established distribution network will remove some of that risk. Your potential partner, in turn, improves their tendering prospects by having an established relationship with a Supply Nation Certified Indigenous business and your business benefits from access to additional resources.

Fortescue is very proud of the high level of success we have achieved in developing the business capacity of our Native Title Groups, Traditional Owners and other Indigenous business owners. More than 80% of the $1 billion dollars worth of contracts awarded to Indigenous businesses as part of our Billion Opportunities program was awarded directly to the businesses of Native Title Groups and Traditional Owners on whose land we operate. This was achieved by identifying opportunities with our major contractors to form 50/50 joint ventures with various groups, a model which allows the Indigenous party to build immediate capability and learn the workings of the business by accessing the knowledge and established processes of the major contractor.

Opportunities for Indigenous people to participate in the business economy are growing. But industry must play their part by opening the doors from the inside. For too long these doors have been shut, and this is due to a lack of awareness and misperceptions. The awarding of $1 billion of contracts/sub-contracts to Indigenous businesses by Fortescue is proof that once those doors have been opened, Indigenous businesses can DELIVER.